Have you ever had the experience where you know you should do something — like go to work on time, or get ready for an important meeting, or just brush your teeth before bed — but you just couldn’t do it?
Everybody procrastinates sometimes, but for people who experienced abuse and neglect in childhood, procrastinating can morph into a kind of paralysis. I’ve had this happen; I’ve spent whole seasons in this place before. And it’s so demoralizing when it’s happening to know that you’re here in this world to do good, but something in you is not letting you do it. So what is that? And how can we change?
In my series on Resilience for people with Childhood PTSD, I’ve been talking about strengths that helps us overcome the big obstacles that can hold us back. In this article and video, the obstacle is paralysis. We literally find ourselves unable to take positive action on our own behalf — both in little day to day things, and in big matters affecting our whole life path.
So what’s going on when we can’t act? The first reason is that doing things — committing ourselves, spending energy, creating something of nothing — is hard. I love sharing videos with you but the week before I shoot them each month, I’m dying of avoidance. Making these videos and articles takes days of preparation — probably about six to eight hours of focused creative work for each article and video I make. When it’s time to plan the content, I suddenly get so interested in balancing my checkbook and cleaning my sandals and and buying some new hair clips online. It makes no sense because releasing these videos is the great joy of my life.! But dong the work that leads up to that moment is hard.
And for people with Childhood PTSD, especially when there’s a lot of unhealed stuff, you’re in a state a stress pretty much all the time, so everything is hard. People who don’t have Childhood PTSD have no idea how much work it is for some of us to do ordinary things. It’s exhausting and stressful! People are hard. Going out of the house is hard. Sticking to a schedule is hard. Expressing yourself is hard. Making money is hard. But you know what’s harder? NOT doing all these things. And that’s why I don’t recommend you make a big accommodation for yourself, and tell yourself that the solution is to avoid everything that’s stressful for you, because in the end, the path of least resistance is to do these things anyway. That’s how they get easier, and how you get happier.
If you have Childhood PTSD, maybe it doesn’t make sense to just run out there and “go for it!” and force yourself to do everything at once. Maybe it’s just a little at a time — at first anyway.
But I’ll tell you what the solution is not — the solution is not to give up on yourself. Don’t identify with the trauma and mistake paralysis for self care.
Your strength lies in action, action taken in right proportion to your capacity. Don’t wait until it “feels right” for you to start brushing your teeth — just take that one step and do it, even when you’re tired, just for practice, just to stretch yourself. Then the next day, I don’t know, clean the kitchen. You know the good actions you need to be taking next. You may have to push yourself — not like a maniac but some every day.
That saying you hear sometimes, “don’t be a human doing, but being a human being?” It’s a good sentiment, but Doing and Being are both really important. And “doing” is how we earn a living, it’s how we express ourselves. How are you going to become fully yourself if you don’t do things?
The more I heal, the more things there are I want to do. Creating the Crappy Childhood Fairy was on my mind for 20 years before I had the inner power to actually do it, and I’m so glad I did. It’s a lot of work on nights and weekends, and part of me would really rather be watching Netflix. No really! I love this era of great television and streaming shows and it bums me out that I can’t watch more of it. But I’d be even more unhappy if I knew that I could be the Crappy Childhood Fairy, but I didn’t make the effort. That is what it feels like to have life pass you by. So I take action, and I encourage you to take action too.
Like all the strengths in my resilience series, taking action is something you can begin immediately, and do a little every day. Big bursts of action are nice, but even better are small, consistent actions. They get you there too, but they give you a little breather between small actions so you can equilibrate – handle the stress that life gives you each time you put yourself out there.
Small actions taken consistently are like super vitamins for Childhood PTSD. If you were ever constrained from letting your light shine, your spirit is going to love taking action. You’re getting somewhere, and accomplishment feels good!
When we keep taking small actions every day, adventure follows. You may or may not reach the goal. You may not even want the goal in the end, but the act of taking small steps each day will increase your aliveness and open your life up to all kinds of unexpected connections and possibilities. You’re in the game. You’re open for business. Your strength is action!
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